It’s not that we’ve got anything to hide
Shopping is usually pretty straightforward. You decide you need a thing, find a place that sells that thing, decide if it looks affordable to you and if it does you buy it.
It’s fairly stress free as processes go, some people even enjoy it.
If you get the thing home and realise it doesn’t actually enrich your life in the way you thought it would the law even allows you to just take it back.
There are some specific industries that choose make it a little bit less straightforward though.
I’ve not bought tons of kitchens in my life, but I find it a hateful process. The last time I did I got prices from three shops that varied from £8,000 to £32,000 for broadly the same thing. When I rang the £32,000 people up to try to make sense of the difference, it was my great fortune to discover that they were, for a very limited time and only for very special customers, offering 60% off. Bringing the price down to £12,800. How very lucky I was to have called them that day. I explained to them that this was great news but that it was still 50% more than the cost of the lowest price I’d had. They muttered something about soft-close hinges and promptly reduced the price to £9,000. I hung up the phone unimpressed. The £9000 seemed OK and soft-close hinges are fancy, but I had no confidence that I was getting a fair deal, it felt like they set their prices purely by how ruthless a negotiator the customer was. I couldn’t help but imagine a certain type of buyer, my mum for example, only getting one quote, being pleased with a 10% discount and paying £20,000 more than they could have. I ended up buying my kitchen from Ikea. Not because I liked their kitchens, but because their pricing was honest and transparent. Everything has a specific price and everyone pays the same. It’s fair. When I told the kitchen salespeople from the other shops this was my decision they warned me that my new Ikea kitchen was so cheaply made it would probably explode within the first year. I decided to take the risk.
New kitchens aren’t the only product that works like this; double glazing is another, some classic car dealers list their stock as ‘Price on application’ then attempt to judge the size of the customer’s wallet over the phone, and, of course, there’s estate agents (you knew that was where I was heading, I expect). At estate agency school they teach you how to handle what they call a ‘fee enquiry’. The knack is, they say, to convert the enquiry to a valuation visit without actually quoting a fee. Like kitchens, there are certain differences between what different estate agents do so the idea of booking a valuation is so the agent can present their services to the customer so they can decide if they like what you do for your proposed fee, as well as the fee itself. Fair enough to a point, but the whole thing can still feel a bit murky and uncomfortable to some people. People like me.
When we first opened Cooke Curtis & Co we talked about publishing our standard selling fees. Why not? Surely there were people out there like me that would appreciate the transparency. The fear is always that if our competitors know what we charge they’ll automatically just undercut us a bit. But so what? Volkswagen’s published prices are higher than Dacia’s and it doesn’t stop people buying Volkswagens. If people can see extra value in something they don’t mind paying a fair price for it, so why don’t estate agents just state our fees explicitly? We’re not a kitchen shop, we don’t do questionable 60% off sales, we charge a fair fee. One we can make a living from without overcharging people’s mums because we can get away with it. A bit more than some agents and a bit less than others. Despite all this logic though, we still don’t actually do it. Nowhere on our website will you find our sales fee quoted. We feel hamstrung by the convention, I suppose.
When I started typing this piece it was going to end with me telling you what we usually charge. As I approach that sentence now I still have an odd reluctance to do so, but here goes:
My name is Sam and my usual sole agency fee is 1% of the sale price of your house plus VAT.
There, I said it. Pow! Take that industry conventions. I’m a renegade. A disruptor. The Ikea of estate agency but without the yellow polo shirts. Though it seems I still can’t bring myself to stop using little qualifiers like ‘standard’ and ‘usual’.